We'll have a new Stanley Cup champion this year. We know that much after the opening round, thanks to the Blues' Game 7 elimination of the Blackhawks on Monday. With the Kings already out and the Bruins not even getting an invite, the last six Cup winners are already done. Only two of the remaining teams have won a Cup in the salary cap era, and four have never won one at all.
And so now we're on to round two. Well, sort of.
The NHL is throwing a twist at us this year, starting the Eastern Conference second-round schedule Wednesday with the Islanders and Lightning even though the Western Conference's opening round hasn't wrapped up yet. So we'll split this preview in two, covering the East today and then wrapping up the West tomorrow once we know whether it will be the Ducks or Predators moving on to face the Sharks.
We might as well start with the big one, a series featuring two star-packed teams with plenty of history and what seems like a fairly clear path to the final awaiting the winner. Other than that, not much on the line.
#1 Capitals vs. #2 Penguins
In this corner: The Presidents' Trophy winning Capitals (56-18-8, +57 true goals differential), moving on to the second round for the fifth time in eight years. They've lost each of their previous four visits, including three that went to Game 7.
And in this corner: The Penguins (48-26-8, +42), a team packed with elite talent that stumbled out of the gate before changing coaches and transforming into a powerhouse.
In round one: The Capitals raced out to a 3-0 series lead on the Flyers before losing two straight to resurrect the ghosts of playoff collapses past; they ended that talk, at least temporarily, by closing out the series with a 1-0 win in Game 6. The Penguins speed-bagged Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers in a five-game series.
Injury report: The big name is Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins' goalie who missed the entire first round with a concussion. He's been skating lately and could return at some point, but until then the Pens will rely on rookie Matt Murray, who played well against the Flyers. The Penguins did get Evgeni Malkin back during the opening round, and the rest of the key names are relatively healthy.
The Capitals are also in fairly good shape, although they've been missing veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik and winger T.J. Oshie looked shaken up by a high hit in Game 6 (but did return for the third period).
Dominant narrative: Ovechkin Crosby Ovechkin Crosby Ovechkin Crosby Ovechkin Crosby Ovechkin Crosby Ovechkin Crosby. The NHL spent years trying to market these two as the Magic vs. Bird rivalry of their era, but they've only actually met in the playoffs once before. That was in 2009, a seven-game Penguins win that many consider one of the best series in recent memory.